Friday, April 03, 2009

Unconditional Parenting


Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason by Alfie Kohn was an amazing book. Somethings are easier to swallow than others: it's easy to accept that time-outs and spankings don't work, harder to accept that "good job!" and stickers for good behavior are damaging. But the concepts of this book are mind-blowing.


One of the most important things that Kohn points out is that it doesn't matter when, as parents, we say, "Of course I love my child unconditionally!" if our child doesn't get that impression through our words and actions. I see this all the time. I have lots of friends who as adults struggle with their relationships with their parents- go to counseling, some even have cut off their contact all together. I wouldn't be surprised if my friends' parents are wondering, "Why are they cutting me off? I love them! Can't they see that?" But, I wonder, if their actions really showed that when they were raising their children. To a child, knowing emotionally that your parents love you unconditionally is more important than knowing it intellectually.

This book isn't full of, "This is what you should do if ____ happens." Kohn repeats that he doesn't know your child and a parenting book like that would be useless. He gives some examples from his own life and some suggestions for ways to deal with various problems, but it's definitely not all-inclusive.

The first part of the book might be hard to get through: he presents studies which demonstrate how harmful punishments and rewards can be to children. It might seem like he never stops with that, but he does. I think Kohn felt that he had to fully refute punishments and rewards before he got on to his philosophies and suggestions. If you get through that first bit, it will cause you to really question, "Why?" to everything you do as a parent.

He admits that his unconditional parenting approach is time-intensive. If you want a quick-fix, this isn't the book: he questions whether or not our quick-fixes have the long-term effects we want them to.

Personally, I found his unconditional parenting approach most like how I think Christ would parent. He emphasizes patience, unconditional love, not using bribery or fear, not worrying what other people around you think of your parenting. However, like I said, it's not a "How To" book. It's a "change the way you view your relationship with your children" book. I've heard that a great follow-up book to Unconditional Parenting is Faber and Mazlish's How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk which I hope to get my hands on in the future.

Yes, it can be hard to swallow, but I would definitely recommend it. You will think differently when you're done. I could write a whole lot more on this book, but I'd end up just transcribing the book onto my blog, and I obviously can't do that for copyright reasons. Check out the book. It's good.

13 comments:

  1. Cool post! Thanks for the book reccomendation! As an elementary teacher (not a parent for another 1-2 years!), I struggle against my urges to reward or punish. Often I catch myself saying "I like how Johny is following directions" and am trying to change it to "Johny, you are doing such a good job following directions. How did you know to do that?"
    Not sure if this is the point of the book but I do know as teacher, we tend to say the 'wrong' thing in our attempts to encourage kids. I'll look into getting the book!

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  2. Kohn actually spends a lot of the book discussing classroom dynamics. I actually think he's written more books on education than parenting. There were a lot of instances in the book where he was speaking to educators as well as parents. I hope you enjoy the book!

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  3. I went and read the 1 star reviews on amazon and see others liked his first book much better. Will consider checking out that one.

    I enjoy reading parenting books. Not sure I'd like this one though. I'm really liking Good and Angry: Exchanging Frustration for Character in You and Your Kids right now.

    I hope God says to me "well done good and faithful servant" so I am not going spend a ton of time worrying that I am praising my daughter too much. I can't imagine what would be wrong with saying, "what a good choice you made!"

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  4. I think his thing against praise is that we use it to manipulate. We say, "Good job being reverent today," in the hopes it'll encourage our kids to be reverent in the future. He's not against genuine praise. I think kids know the difference when you're genuine and when you're trying to get them to do something.

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  5. I found that the book got me thinking about a lot of things...BUT I do think it's important to take it with a grain of salt. You do have to remember that Kohn is a moral relativist, meaning that he doesn't believe in an ultimate 'right' or 'wrong'...as followers of Christ we DO believe in an ultimate right and wrong, as well as in the need to teach these things to our children.
    So yes, he makes some great points about making our childrens needs/wants as valid/important as our own...but we do have to remember that we cannot forget that we do still have an obligation to teach them. I think he has some very helpful ideas about how to interact with our children, and how to show them love...but he's got his flaws too. :)

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  6. I was kinda confused about the praising bit too, but Mommy Bee cleared it up for me. I don't think that encouraging positive behaviors by praising is a bad idea. I also don't think it is manipulation. I haven't read the book, though ;)

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  7. I've been reading the articles on his site and my husband and I are working on this very thing right now. I stopped my manipulative/automatic praising months ago and have been letting go of discipline and punishment in the past few weeks. I feel like such a nicer mommy and my KIDS ARE LISTENING BETTER. Thanks for the book recommendation :-D

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  8. Love this book! Sarah, he has written other books that are more about education. Just check out Amazon.

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  9. I am new here! What a great blog :)

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  10. Kohn is actually very well known in the educational psych circle. We studied about him when I was training as a teacher. Interesting though, I will have to read it. Just initially, I would say that from a teacher's standpoint, rewards and "punishments" certainly do work to produce desired behavior (ie Pavlov.) But are we trying to teach desired behavior, or as Elder Oakes suggests, help our children become loving, well-adjusted people? The best parenting advice I have ever heard was "Is my goal to have a clean floor (substitute anything else in there) or to raise a child who knows they are loved?"

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  11. I would be very interested to read this book, although I think I would end up strongly disagreeing.

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  12. I just requested this book from my local library. I can't wait to read it. It sounds really insightful. Thanks for posting about it.

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  13. I love this book. I reference it all the time. Full of great things to think about!

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